Otter, one eye open, one shut. Maybe it's a sidelong glance, incredulous at the audacity. According to the powers that be at Oxford Children's Dictionary, otter and other nature words have been removed from the dictionary saying they "do not hold any relevance for modern day childhood." Otter is accompanied into oblivion by other nature words: acorn, almond, apricot, ash, beaver, beech, beetroot, blackberry, bluebell, boar, bramble, brook, buttercup, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, cheetah, chestnut, clover, colt, conker, cowslip, crocus, cygnet.
There are so many; dandelion, doe, drake, fern, ferret, fungus, gooseberry, hazel, hazelnut, heather, heron, herring, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, porcupine, porpoise, raven, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.
Also: lavender, leek, melon, mint, mistletoe, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, poppy, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow.
Ok, I understand. Language evolves too, just like everything else. Some words don't make it into the lexicon of the future. They become extinct. But, dandelion? Doesn't every child need to know that word? How else can they research the joy of blowing off the wisps and watching them float away, landing who knows where? What will be their reference as they imagine the effortless sowing of those seeds so more of these playful weeds emerge next season? Death in a dictionary evoked dread in me. Dread that the eliminated words were the next casualties of hundreds of plants and animals that are going extinct every day. I fear this dictionary death forebodes The Sixth Extinction, the one caused by us that is occurring right now, the biggest one since the dinosaurs went by the wayside 65 million years ago.
The Oxford Children's Dictionary replacement words are the likes of allergic, analog, Blackberry (yes, same word but the Blackberry with buttons!) boisterous, blog, conflict, chatroom, classified, compulsory, creep, cut+paste, database, donate, dyslexic, MP3 player, vandalism and voicemail. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the former words much better. The replacement words spark images of our children sitting in front of screens inside the house, manipulating keyboards and buttons alone while becoming obese.
This nature word purge happened way back in 2007 and the controversy is still gaining momentum. As reported in the Guardian, 28 authors, including Margaret Atwood, Michael Morpurgo and Robert Macfarlane, wrote to the publisher to warn that the decision to cut around 50 words connected with nature and the countryside from the 10,000-entry children’s dictionary, is “shocking and poorly considered” in the light of the decline in outdoor play for today’s children. They are calling on publisher Oxford University Press to reverse its decision. There have also been a string of online petitions about it. The latest one on Change.org www.change.org/p/oxford-university-press-nature-related-words-should-be-reinstated-in-the-junior-oxford-english-dictionary has been signed by over 190,000 people. That is the only silver lining that I see in this cloud. Thousands of people are passionately opposed to it.